A breakdown of this week’s Men’s Draw at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
First Quarter: Novak Djokovic (1)
Djokovic enters the week off a tough loss to Andy Murray on Sunday and with a small injury concern. Djokovic told reporters this past week about a recurring elbow issue that required some treatment during his Rogers Cup run. As spelled out earlier, Djokovic has never won this event so it is difficult to like him this week. In the top half of this quarter, he leads the way with Gilles Muller or Lucky Loser Benoit Paire up in the second round. Neither possesses the requisite consistency to trouble Djokovic, but the World #1 will bear watching early this week to see how fit he is. The seed opposite in this half is #13 David Goffin who could take advantage. Goffin opens with Yen-Hsun Lu. Goffin won their only meeting two years ago at the Citi Open. The winner there takes on the survivor of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Fernando Verdasco. Tsonga owns a 4-2 advantage head-to-head, but they have not met since 2013. Tsonga was good in Montreal, but rarely has played Cincy. He is 1-3 here and lost his first match two of his three trips to the Midwest. Verdasco could improve after losing in three sets last week to Nick Kyrgios in his first match back on hard courts since the Spring. I think an upset is possible. If Djokovic is healthy and wanting to get more matches, he still is the class here and should be in the quarters. If not, I think Goffin is the logical choice to move through here in a fairly open section opposite of Djokovic.
The bottom half of the quarter is led by fifth seeded Stan Wawrinka and tenth seed Gilles Simon. In the top half, Simon is an early exit candidate against Ivo Karlovic. The winner there will get Martin Klizan who pulled off an upset win in a third set tie break against Dominic Thiem on Sunday. Wawrinka has the first round bye and then takes on Borna Coric of qualifier Alexander Zverev. Wawrinka is always a tough case in non-Slams. Last week was obviously full of even odder circumstance with the Nick Kyrgios “sledge.” There is also the question of whether the back injury he claimed to have forced him out of the Kyrgios match is legitimate. If it is, Coric of Zverev could have a huge opportunity in this part of the draw. Having made it through qualifying, give Zverev the edge against Coric in what could be a glimpse of a great future rivalry. Zverev has shown well this summer with a quarterfinal run in Washington, D.C., while Coric is still learning this surface. This looks like it could be one of those sections that opens for a non-seed to make the quarters. Karlovic seems more likely, but don’t discount Zverev if Wawrinka is truly hurt.
Projection: David Goffin sneaks through the top half if Djokovic is compromised. Djokovic makes it otherwise. In the bottom half, let’s get crazy and go with Zverev as Wawrinka dips out early.
Second Quarter: Tomas Berdych (6)
Berdych becomes the highest seed in this quarter with the withdrawal of Kei Nishikori due to a hip injury. Alexandr Dolgopolov slides into Nishikori’s cushy spot in the top half of the quarter, while Berdych is the leading seed in the bottom half. Starting with Berdych, the Czech won’t have an easy time to open against Bellucci or Vesely. Vesely might be the easier option. Bellucci has played Berdych tough earlier in their careers, so watch out for an upset. Also in this half, it’s an All-American affair to open with 11th seed John Isner against Sam Querrey. That seems like a prime scalp opportunity for Querrey with Isner hobbled with a knee issue late last week in Montreal. The winner then gets one of two Spaniards, Pablo Andujar or Tommy Robredo. Robredo made a big splash last summer in Cincy by knocking out top seed Novak Djokovic in the third round. Andujar won’t be an easy out, but this part of the quarter looks open for a non-seed like Querrey, Andujar or Robredo to take advantage of a less than 100 percent Isner. Berdych has had some good runs in Cincy, both coming in odd years. In 2011 and 2013, he made the semifinals at this tournament. If he can get off to a good start, he might have a shot to at least get into the quarters.
Up top where Dolgopolov sneaks into Nishikori’s position, the qualifier gets a bye. He will play Stakhovsky or Tomic now with the winner there with a golden opportunity to make some noise this week. A lot depends on the brain waves of Bernard Tomic this week. He was locked in during his run in Montreal to the third round where he lost to Tsonga. Dolgopolov had chances to upset Grigor Dimitrov in Montreal last week after running through qualifying, but he failed to take advantage of Dimitrov’s shaky play. This week, he looks for his first ever main draw win in Cincy with an 0-4 mark in the main draw. He owns a 5-3 record against Tomic, but Tomic has won the last two meetings. Gael Monfils is the lone seed in this half as the fourteenth seed will battle Jerzy Janowicz to open. That could be a one and done. However, if Monfils gets past Jerzy, this is a spot where he could make a run. This quarter might as well have all their matches under a Big Top because you’ve got a bunch of circus clowns in action here. The question will be which one leaves his clown shoes off more than they are on? It’s hard to trust anyone here. Monfils by default, but the dark horse quarterfinal pick here would be Tomic.
Projection: Berdych to steady the ship this week when most think he might just crap out early again. Opposite of him in the quarters, go with another surprise and I think it is Tomic or Dolgopolov. A very unsteady nod to Tomic from yours truly.
Third Quarter: Andy Murray (3)
Murray comes in with a huge monkey off his back after beating Novak Djokovic on Sunday for the first time in his last eight tries. It came with icing on top of that cake as he won a title to boot at the Rogers Cup. Murray’s history in Cincinnati is similar to that in Canada. He has not made a semifinal here since 2011 when he won the title. He’ll get some rest and then either Viktor Troicki or Mardy Fish. That should suit him well to start with a win. 16th seed Grigor Dimitrov is the other seed in this half. He won his opener Sunday night 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 over Lukas Rosol. He will take on the battle of qualifiers with Vasek Pospisil taking on Denis Kudla in the opening round. Pospisil has two wins over Kudla, one at the ATP level on grass in Newport back in 2013. Kudla has cooled some since his Atlanta semifinal run. Pospisil won’t have John Isner in his way this week. Isner beat him both in D.C. and Montreal. I think the Canadian’s game is better suited to these faster courts, so give him the edge on Kudla. Dimitrov may be confident of going a step further if it is Pospisil who he owns a 3-0 career head-to-head against. Overall, I do like Murray to get to the quarters here as he should be brimming with confidence.
The other half of the quarter is led by 7th seeded Marin Cilic along with 12th seed Richard Gasquet. Both have questions coming into the week. For Cilic, can he find the form that seemed to have him headed in the right direction at the Citi Open before he met Nishikori? His first-up comes against Sousa or Kohlschreiber. Kolschreiber can be tough, but this is a match Cilic needs to win. Gasquet meanwhile needs to prove health after dropping out of the Rogers Cup due to illness. It won’t be easy with firestorm Nick Kyrgios in the opening round. If he can survive there, he could meet Kyrgios’ running mate Thanasi Kokkinakis who takes on Fabio Fognini in the first round. Yes, you can’t make that sort of thing up that the two Aussies embroiled in controversy from the past week could play each other in the second round. Gasquet has lost his first match the last two trips to Cincy, so something tells me that fate could indeed pit the two Aussies against each other. Fognini has lost ten straight on outdoor hard courts, not winning since last year’s U.S. Open. He did however make the quarters last year at this tournament. I’d look for Cilic to get his head back on straight this week barring injury and don’t be surprised if it’s one of the Aussies he has to go through to get to the quarters.
Projection: This quarter should stay seeded in the end. I think Murray continues to play well this week and snaps up a spot in the quarters opposite of Cilic. If you want old school N.W.O. Outsiders to make noise late, think Kyrgios or Kokkinakis. #BangGate for life!
Fourth Quarter: Roger Federer (2)
There are a lot of stories this week, but at first glance this week may end up smelling like roses for Roger Federer. This has been one of his best tournaments with four titles in Cincinnati in the last six years. He’s perfectly rested after choosing to skip Montreal. His opener against Bautista-Agut or Cuevas should afford him time to work into a good groove. In his half of the quarter, Kevin Anderson is the other seed at #15. Anderson was shocked in the opeing round of the Rogers Cup by Lukas Rosol and lost his first match at the Citi Open to Alexander Zverev. He’ll hope to turn things around against Leonardo Mayer in round one. That might be possible as Anderson has won twice already this year against Mayer. Keep in mind though that Anderson has lost his first match in Cincy three years running. The winner gets wild card Bjorn Frantangelo or Jack Sock. Sock is 0-fer in Cincinnati in his career, so getting his first main draw win is a priority. He could be the one to get through to play Federer in the third round. Federer looks like a good chance to be in the quarters.
The other half of the quarter has 8th seeded Rafael Nadal and 9th seeded Milos Raonic. As outlined in the seed report, Nadal won’t find his first match here easy. Nadal likely could face Jeremy Chardy in the second round. Chardy is fresh off a semifinal run in Montreal. Nadal did not play Cincy last year, but made at least the quarters for five straight years from 2008 to 2013. With consistency not Chardy’s strong suit, I think Rafa should survive his opener. For Raonic, he needs matches to get comfortable with his foot following surgery earlier this summer. He definitely looked rusty in Montreal. If he can wiggle by Feliciano Lopez to open, his path to the quarters gets easier with Seppi or Mannarino in the second round. That would leave Nadal or maybe a surprising consistent Chardy in the third. Raonic has made the quarters two of three years he has come here. If he can find his form, that could be three of four years. I won’t be surprised though if he can’t do that and Rafa squeezes through to give this tournament a delightful Roger vs. Rafa showdown in the quarters.
Projection: Federer in one half and I’ll go with Nadal to get through the other half. Raonic would be the one who could take Rafa’s spot, but I’m not sold that he’s got enough matches and repetition to make a deep run just yet.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO….
This looks like a Roger Federer or Andy Murray week to me. A surprise run by Berdych if Djokovic ducks out before the semifinals is a possible “dark horse” type run. I still think the winner comes out of the bottom of the draw with either an in-form Murray or King Federer in the Queen City.